Mark Burger’´s VIDEO VAULT
WATERSHIP DOWN (Warner Home Video): This 1978 adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel is (and was) a far cry from the usual animated fare of that time, which was then dominated by Disney, but stands as a powerful and effective rendition of one of the decade’s more unlikely best-sellers. The principal setting is a forest in the English countryside, and the main characters are rabbits who decide to leave the safety (temporary, as it turns out) of their warren to find a new home. Along the way, they encounter many perils: cats, dogs, hawks, other rabbits and, of course, the most dangerous of all — man. One can easily read various allegories into the tale (no pun intended), or simply enjoy it as a suspenseful adventure story. It works quite well on both levels, with an excellent voice cast lending distinctive personality to the proceedings: John Hurt, Ralph Richardson, Richard Briers, Denholm Elliott, Michael Hordern, Harry Andrews, Joss Ackland, Nigel Hawthorne and Zero Mostel (in his final performance). There’s even a theme song, “Bright Eyes,” sung by Art Garfunkel, which evidently was a hit somewhere. This “deluxe edition” includes a retrospective documentary featuring writer/ producer Martin Rosen, who also made his directorial debut with the film. Rated PG. ***’½
ALSO ON DVD 20 YEARS AFTER (MTI Home Video): A talky, low-budget, post-apocalyptic melodrama centering around a young woman (Azura Skye) whose unborn baby is hope for the future. If the future is as pretentious as this, we’re all in trouble. Originally titled Like Moles, Like Rats and based on a play of the same name. Rated R. *’½ .
BLACK SHAMPOO (VCI Entertainment): John Daniels stars as “Mr. Jonathan,” the ladykilling proprietor of a beauty salon coveted by the mob, in writer/director Greydon Clark’s amusingly cheesy, low-budget 1976 “blaxploitation” riff on Shampoo. Rated R. **
BLOODSUCKING CINEMA (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Film critic Richard Roeper narrates writer/director Barry Gray’s documentary, which examines the history of vampires in the movies, featuring interviews with filmmakers and actors with genre experience. Not bad, but a number of important vampire films (Near Dark, Love at First Bite, Blacula) get short shrift. **
BLOOD WARS (MTI Home Video): As if college wasn’t crazy enough, it’s even wackier with a coven of vampires on campus. This silly but fast-moving shocker combines the requisite bloodletting, medieval mythology, and even Matrix-type fight scenes, albeit on a low budget. The cast includes Tony Todd (well-cast as a vampire king), Jason Connery, AJ Draven (who also produced). Rini Bell, Allison Lange and, very briefly, C. Thomas Howell. Originally titled The Thirst: Blood War. Rated R. **
“A COLBERT CHRISTMAS: THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL!” (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Political pundit and satirist Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” celebrates the season in his first holiday special, joined by the likes of Jon Stewart, Toby Keith, Johnny Legend, Feist, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Everybody gets to sing, too! This special-edition DVD retails for $19.99.
THE DARK KNIGHT (Warner Home Video): The second in director Christopher Nolan’s highly successful, re-tooled Batman franchise reunites sees Christian Bale again cast as the Caped Crusader — joined again by Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) — as he fights the forces of evil in Gotham City, particularly a clownish fiend known as “The Joker” (the late Heath Ledger). A superior cast also includes Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall, and the film was a mammoth box-office success (grossing nearly $1 billion worldwide), but it could have done with more trimming and fewer loose ends. Still, there’s no arguing with success on this level. Warner Home Video is releasing several editions of the film on DVD and Blu-ray, ranging in price from $28.98 to $64.99. (For an exclusive interview with the film’s fight arranger, Richard Ryan, see Page XXXXX.) Rated PG-13. ***
“DORIS DAY: CHRISTMAS MEMORIES” (MPI Home Video): A selection of three Christmas episodes from the prime-time sitcom “The Doris Day Show,” which ran on CBS from 1968 to 1973. Day herself contributes an audio commentary. This DVD retails for $14.98.
DRILLBIT TAYLOR (Paramount Home Entertainment): Owen Wilson plays a homeless con man recruited by three highschool nerds (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile and David Dorfman) to battle bullies. A few scattered laughs, but too often it veers into mean-spiritedness. Also on hand: Leslie Mann (producer Judd Apatow’s wife), David Koechner, Frank Whaley, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Baldwin (riffing on his screen debut in 1980’s My Bodyguard) and NCSA alumnus Danny McBride. Rated PG-13 (also available in an extended “survival” edition). *’½
GET SMART (Warner Home Video): This over-produced, overlong feature version of the ever-popular ’60s TV sitcom is not without its pleasures, chief among them (no pun intended) the enthusiastic performances of Steve Carell as the bumbling Maxwell Smart and lusciously leggy Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. Also on hand: Alan Arkin (as the Chief) and James Caan — thereby marking a Freebie and the Bean reunion — as well as Terence Stamp, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Terry Crews, David Koechner, Ken Davitian, Larry Miller, Kevin Nealon and Bill Murray (as Agent 13). Available in either a single disc ($28.98 retail), a two-disc special edition ($34.99 retail) or Blu-ray ($35.99 retail). Rated PG-13. **’½
“GHOST IN THE STELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX” — SEASON 1, COMPLETE COLLECTION (Manga Entertainment/ Bandai Entertainment): Inspired by the hit Japanese feature film, here are all 26 episodes from the 2002-’03 season of the critically acclaimed anime series set in an 2030, in which members of a Japanese security force track down an international terrorist and his minions. This seven-disc boxed retails for $49.97.
“HANNAH MONTANA” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 26 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the phenomenally popular, award-winning Disney Channel comedy series with Miley Cyrus as an all-American teenager who also happens to be a pop star. This earned an Emmy nomination as outstanding children’s series. This boxed set retails for $39.99. And, if you can’t get enough of the franchise, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has also released “The Hannah Montana DVD Game” ($29.99 retail), an interactive DVD game featuring Cyrus and the show’s cast, which includes a trivia challenge, a danceoff, a band audition, a personality quiz and much more. You can play it alone or with friends!
THE HANOI HILTON (Warner Home Video): The DVD debut of writer/director Lionel Chetwynd’s 1987 drama about American POWs incarcerated in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison during the Vietnam War. The first half of the film is a genuinely affecting dramatization of the American spirit under dire circumstances, but the second half degenerates into simplistic, right-wing propaganda. Still, there’s strong work from an ensemble cast: Michael Moriarty, Jeffrey Jones, Paul Le Mat, David Soul, Lawrence Pressman, Doug Savant, John Diehl, John Vargas and Aki Aleong (as the ruthless commander), but Gloria Carlin (Chetwynd’s real-life wife) is embarrassing playing an actress based on Jane Fonda. One of the more ambitious films produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the infamous (but much-missed) Cannon Films, this was a box-office flop, but it’s worth a look. The DVD includes an interview with Chetwynd and Sen. John McCain, himself a survivor of the “Hanoi Hilton.” Rated R. **
IT’S A BOY GIRL THING (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Elton John’s Rocket Pictures produced this light-hearted throwback to the ’80s “body-switch” comedies, with Kevin Zegers and Samaire Armstrong as teenaged neighbors who switch personalities. Zaniness ensues. Like a lot of those earlier films, the gimmick tends to wear thin after awhile — but Zegers and Armstrong give it everything they’ve got, and prove to be pleasingly adept at physical comedy. Also on hand: Robert Joy, Maury Chaykin and Sharon Osbourne (as Zegers’ mom). Rated PG-13. **
THE KING OF KINGS (The Criterion Collection): The life of Jesus Christ, as envisioned by producer/director Cecil B. DeMille in this 1927 silent epic, with text taken directly from the Bible. HB Warner heads the cast as Jesus, with Dorothy Cumming as Mary, Jacqueline Logan as Mary Magdalene, future Oscar winner Joseph Schildkraut as Judas Iscariot and William Boyd (later better-known as Hopalong Cassidy) as Simon of Cyrene. This two-disc boxed set, which retails for $39.95, includes the 155-minute premiere version as well as the 112-minute general release version, plus a myriad of special features.
“NFL GREATEST GAMES SERIES: DALLAS COWBOYS” (NFL Films/Warner Home Video): A selection of 10 complete broadcasts of the Dallas Cowboys’ greatest games, as determined by a fan poll. Among the highlights are Dallas’ five Super Bowl victories (1971, ’77, ’92,’93 and ’95). This boxed set retails for $49.98.
“NFL HISTORY OF THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS” (NFL Films/Warner Home Video): A two-disc collector’s-edition DVD ($26.95 retail) tracing the history of the pro football franchise whose superstar players over the years have included Nick Buoniconti, Gino Cappelletti, Steve Grogan, Steve Nelson, Stanley Morgan, Ben Coates and Tom Brady. The team won Super Bowls in 2001, ’03 and ’04 — not without controversy, however — and ended its perfect season last year by losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Oh, well….
“SCRUBS” — THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 11 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the popular, awardwinning prime-time situation comedy detailing the misadventures of the staff of Sacred Heart Hospital. The ensemble cast includes Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke and John C. McGinley. The series, which next season makes the jump from NBC to ABC, earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding cinematography for a half-hour series (for the episode “My Princess”). This boxed set, which includes cast commentaries and bloopers, retails for $29.99.
“THE STARLOST” — THE COMPLETE SERIES (VCI Entertainment): All 16 episodes from the 1973-’74 (and only) season of the syndicated, award-winning, Canadian-produced sci-fi TV series, set in the year 2790 AD, in which various subcultures exist, independent and unknowing of each other, within separate domes aboard the gigantic Earthship Ark… which happens to be on a collision course with a sun. Series creator Harlan Ellison, unhappy with the production, opted for the pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird.” The regular cast included Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, Robin Ward and William Osler. Guest stars included Sterling Hayden, John Colicos, Barry Morse, Lloyd Bochner, Simon Oakland, Frank Converse and “Star Trek” alumnus Walter Koenig. This boxed set retails for $49.99.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger.